The life of the 33-year-old switch-hitting journeyman utility guy is not an easy one, but it does provide some players with the opportunity to hang around the game of baseball a little bit longer.
Michael Martinez will head to Goodyear, Arizona, for his second consecutive spring training with the Cleveland Indians as a non-roster invitee after signing a minor league contract with the club in November, just two days after he was outrighted off of the 40-man roster and refused the assignment, becoming a free agent.
He spent the majority of 2015 at Triple-A Columbus, but did get into 16 games for the Indians as a September call-up when rosters expanded, hitting .267 with a pair of doubles, two RBI, and seven runs scored. The Indians used the opportunity to see what spark Martinez could give to their lineup if given the opportunity and, to some degree, he did not disappoint.
The coming season will mark Martinez’s eleventh year in professional ball after signing with the Washington Nationals as an amateur free agent in 2005. Gradually climbing the minor league ladder, he reached the ceiling in 2010 and had arguably his best combined season of his pro career, hitting .272 with 21 doubles, six triples, eleven homers, and 56 RBI while stealing 23 bases in stops at Double-A and Triple-A.
The Philadelphia Phillies took a chance on the 27-year-old that offseason, selecting him in the Rule 5 draft. Per the draft requirements, he spent the entire season on the Major League roster, playing in 88 games and hitting .196. He split the next season between the minors and Majors, appearing in 45 games for the Phillies while hitting .174. He played in 29 more games at the MLB level in 2013, but following the season, he became a free agent and later signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He spent all but 26 games at the Triple-A level for the Pirates that season, hitting .128 in limited opportunities for the parent club. He again hit free agency following the season and continued his path west across the country, making a stop with Cleveland.
He hit .289 with 24 doubles, five triples, five homers, 42 RBI, and was 11-for-14 stealing bases in 102 games for the Columbus Clippers while appearing at five different positions. In 16 games for the Tribe, he took four different spots in the field, playing all three outfield spots and third base.
Over the course of his five seasons in the Majors, he has played second, short, third, left, center, and right field. He has done similar at the minor league level, with the bulk of the playing time coming right up the middle at second and short, but he also appeared twice on the mound. He has played five different positions over nine seasons of winter ball, primarily in the Dominican Winter League.
Martinez was a handy player to have stashed at the Triple-A level last season for Cleveland, even if he ultimately was not needed as his role at the time was covered with the Indians by the dual presence of Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez. With Aviles now a member of the Detroit Tigers, it leaves a void for a true super utility guy on the depth chart after Ramirez, which could put the man of many gloves just one phone call away for manager Terry Francona.
“He impressed everybody this spring with how he went about everything,” offered Francona after Martinez was added to the MLB roster. “He goes to Triple-A and by all accounts, [Clippers manager Chris Tremie], everybody, [said] he was probably the best teammate in the organization this year.”
He would be considered a defensive benefit for the Indians over an offensive one, as that side of his game has tended to result in light-hitting results. He has made just one error in 60 games in the outfield in his MLB career, good for a .988 fielding percentage, and has shown a better range factor per nine innings than league average. He has a .972 fielding percentage in his career at shortstop, followed by a .967 mark at second and .956 at third, but he was better statistically at second base in the minors.
He has flashed speed on the bases at times throughout his minor league career, twice stealing more than 20 bases, but those seasons were the 2008 and 2010 campaigns.
He is a career .187 hitter at the Major League level, but a .268 hitter during his minor league stops. His switch-hitting ability adds yet another layer of versatility to what he provides on the diamond.
He has once again logged some extra innings in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, hitting .222 in 13 games in 2016 for Las Estrelles Orientales in the round robin tournament. He was joined on the club by his teammate in Columbus, Audy Ciriaco. Martinez hit in five straight games at one point and drove in four runs in one contest.
Martinez will head to spring camp hoping to put himself in good position for the club as a utility option up from Columbus as needed or to put himself on the radar for other clubs in need of a man with the flexibility that he can provide a roster, even heading into the later stages of his career.
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